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"Go the Fuck to Sleep": Profane Kids' Book for Adults 

Wednesday, Jun 1 2011

Not all of them will admit it, but most authors want their books to become Amazon bestsellers. Being an Amazon bestseller before even being published seems like a lot to ask. Being a prepublication Amazon bestseller that wasn't even supposed to be a real book but instead just a facetious Facebook suggestion for one, however, seems like a sign of the times.

This explains why local writer Adam Mansbach's Facebook page, where he once joked about writing a children's book called Go the Fuck to Sleep is now filled with link after link of media coverage anticipating that very book. It explains why Mansbach's virally anticipated "children's book for adults," as he now describes it, has in fact been so virally anticipated that its publication date got bumped up from November to June. Maybe it even explains why people don't talk about Men of Letters anymore — not because it's sexist, but because we've moved on to Men of Status Updates.

Anyway, by now, even commenting on Mansbach's book at all feels like enabling something frivolous, taking some kind of bait. Of course weary parents everywhere know all about how that feels.

Getting under way with a cleverly double-edged dedication — "For Vivien, without whom none of this would be possible" — Go the Fuck to Sleep declares its priorities promptly and (relatively) primly: "The cats nestle close to their kittens,/The lambs have laid down with the sheep./You're cozy and warm in your bed, my dear./Please go the fuck to sleep." Meanwhile illustrator Ricardo Cortés paints lots of kids and safely snoozing animals under muted night skies, providing a warm aura of coconspiracy.

In no time, the satisfying patterns have emerged — not just in Mansbach's rhyme scheme but also, most signally, in his repeated Sisyphuslike descent from well-meaning effort into foul-mouthed exasperation: "The tiger reclines in the simmering jungle./The sparrow has silenced her cheep./Fuck your stuffed bear, I'm not getting you shit./Close your eyes. Cut the crap. Sleep."

Appropriately enough for the instaquip milieu from which it was spawned, Go the Fuck to Sleep is self-evidently hilarious. Or offensive, if that's how you want to be. (In which case, don't reproduce.) "Total genius" is the entirety of the approving Jonathan Lethem blurb, which seems a little lazy for him, but let's just presume Lethem has been kept busy and exhausted by his own kids.

Certainly Mansbach, who is also the author of Angry Black White Boy and The End of the Jews, has paid dues enough to deserve his sudden spike in Amazon sales rank, which usually is a great leveler, except when it isn't. He was No. 1 for a while there, and as of this writing remains in the Top 10 (with other topics of recent bestselling interest including Nazis, Navy SEALs, Henry Kissinger, Steven Tyler, Tina Fey, strategies for leadership and weight loss, Jimmy Fallon, and Area 51, all as explored in books that have actually been published). And at least the recommendation engine has sense enough to liken Mansbach's project to local works like the Lemony Snicket books, Lisa Brown's Baby Be of Use series, and Jory John's All My Friends Are Dead (with Avery Monsen), the last of which is another fine model of faux-naif hilarity.

There is, yes, the whiff of literature reduced to mere party favor, not to mention a certain generational refusal to embrace adulthood. But what's really happening here is more like the opposite: a nuanced if desperate knowledge that only for so long can we maintain the facade of twee, G-rated cutesiness before inevitably lapsing into subcivil vulgarity — along with a solemn cultural commitment to persist nonetheless.

Or, to borrow from Mansbach: "We're finally watching our movie./Popcorn's in the microwave. Beep./Oh shit. Goddamn it. You've gotta be kidding./Come on, go the fuck back to sleep."

About The Author

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.


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